Rio 2016 Olympics Previews: Paltrinieri-Sun Showdown Leads Men’s 1500

Men’s 1500 Freestyle

The men’s 1500 is shaping up to be one of the best battles in Rio.  In one corner, we have the defending Olympic champion and world record holder.  In the other corner, an upstart 21-year-old who has (perhaps temporarily) taken the throne as the world’s premier distance swimmer.  While who gets his hand on the wall first is in question, we’re certain about one thing: this will be the fastest 1500 field of all time.  Eight swimmers have broken 14:50 since the start of 2014, three of whom have lifetime bests under 14:40.  Overall, it will likely take somewhere in the 14:50-14:53 range to final.
To keep track of all of these guys, we’ve split the field into a few groups:

The Italian Stallions

Italy hasn’t won a men’s Olympic medal since 2004, but with distance training partners Gregorio Paltrinieri and Gabrielle Detti (both 21 years old, born just one week apart) on hand, odds are they’ll break that streak in Rio.  Paltrinieri has been the best distance swimmer on the planet since the end of 2013, recording the world’s #1 short course and long course 1500 times each of the past three calendar years.  In Kazan last summer, he won gold in the 1500, and was neck-and-neck with Sun Yang through 750 meters of the 800 (Sun’s toughest challenge to date).  Behind incredible short course performances from December and his record-breaking 14:34.04 at the European Championships in May, Paltrinieri has all the momentum on his side to win in Rio.

Detti doesn’t have the same medal count as Paltrinieri, but has recorded top ten 1500 times each of the past three seasons, as well, headlined by breakthrough 14:46.48 at Italian Nationals that makes him the third-fastest swimmer in 2016.  Two months later, he won three medals, including gold in the 400, at the European Championships.

The Defending Champion

The key hurdle in Paltrinieri’s is a big one: world record holder Sun Yang.  Although he hasn’t lost a major international race of 400 meters or longer since 2011, Sun hasn’t been close to his personal bests from the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.  Injuries (he’s been battling a foot injury since January) and incidents could definitely have played a role; the defending Olympic gold medalist has frequented the tabloids, including a positive drug test, a fall-out with long-time coach Zhu Zhigen, an incident in the Kazan warm-up pool, and legal issues stemming from a 2013 car crash.  However, after an impressive showing in Santa Clara at an Arena Pro Swim Series event where he posted the world’s top 200 time and #2 400 time, it’s clear Sun has plenty in the tank to defend his title.

The [North] Americans

Three North American swimmers will be in the hunt: Canadian Ryan Cochrane, and Americans Connor Jaeger and Jordan Wilimovsky.  Cochrane brings more international experience (2006 Pan Pacs vs. 2012 Olympics for Jaeger vs. 2015 for Wilimovsky), more hardware (24 medals at major international meets vs. 5 for Jaeger, vs. 1 for Wilimovsky), and a faster personal best (14:39.63 vs. 14:41.20 vs. 14:49.19) to the table, but Jaeger has had the upper hand the past two years.  In 2014, Jaeger came up golden in the 1500 at Pan Pacs, and bettered his Canadian counterpart again last summer at Worlds in both the 800 and 1500.

In addition, Jaeger carries maybe the strongest momentum coming into this meet outside of Detti and Paltrinieri.  He was perhaps the top-performing American male across the board last summer in Kazan, where he posted an American-record-smashing 14:41.20 to earn silver in the 1500.  He was just 14:47.61 in Omaha last month, but after securing an Olympic birth the opening night in the 400 with a lifetime-best 3:43.79, it’s possible he amped up the training a bit more in practice, rather than spending eight days in “race day” mode less than two months before Rio.

Meanwhile, Cochrane’s times have slipped since he became the first swimmer from the Americas to crack the 14:40 barrier at the 2012 Olympics:

Ryan Cochrane 1500m bests, by season
2014: 14:44.03
2015: 14:51.08
2016: 15:00.79

Given him qualifying out of Canadian Olympic Trials was all but a “sure thing”, his 15:00 isn’t particularly alarming (he was just 15:09 at 2012 Canadian Trials, for comparison).  However, with a stronger set of medal challengers this time around, he will need to get back towards the 14:40 mark to contend.

Wilimovsky will be in the mix, as well, after his 14:49.19 at U.S. Olympic Trials.  Although this is his first big-time international experience in a pool event, Wilimovsky is the defending world champion in the 10K open water.  What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not his open water preparations impede his 1500; the 10K is less than 72 hours after the 1500 final in the pool.

Mack and Jack

Like Italy, Australia also possesses an impressive young distance duo that appears to be hitting their stride at the right time. 21-year-old Mack Horton and 20-year-old Jack McLoughlin each crushed their personal bests at Australian Trials, with Horton dropping five seconds to clock a then-world-best 14:39.54, and McLoughlin cutting 25 seconds to earn the second spot in 14:48.60.  Horton has been considered the future of Australian distance freestyle since he swept the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 at the 2013 World Junior Championships, and while his showing in Kazan was sub-par, he’s clearly rebounded with a front-half of 2016.

The Rest

  • South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan will be competing in Rio, following his official reinstatement last month.  Park typically leverages his world-reknowned easy speed to compete in the 1500 (he was fourth in London), but lacks the back-half to contend for medals like he does in the 200 and 400
  • Egypt’s Akram Mahmoud.  His second place finish in the 1650 at NCAA’s was heart-wrenching, but the final time (14:31.66) shows how much he progressed with 12 more months under Mark Bernardino’s tutelage.  Mahmoud was fourth place last summer in 14:53.66, and given the leap he made short course, he’s an outside threat to medal
  • Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine.  The 19-year-old is an up-and-coming distance star.  His 14:50.33 from Euros in May is the ninth-fastest time of this Olympiad
  • Pal Joensen of the Faroe Islands has long been a fan favorite due to his unique background, and while he hasn’t won a major international medal since 2014, he’s still worthy of consideration
  • Stephen Milne of Great Britain is just the 14th-fastest this Olympiad, but his swims are timely; he finished fifth last summer in Kazan
Place Swimmer Country Best Time (Since 2012 Olympics) Predicted Time in Rio
1 Gregorio Paltrinieri Italy 14:34.04 14:32.50
2 Sun Yang China 14:41.15 14:35.10
4 Mack Horton Australia 14:39.54 14:39.25
3 Connor Jaeger USA 14:41.20 14:39.80
5 Ryan Cochrane Canada 14:42.48 14:43.50
6 Gabriele Detti Italy 14:46.48 14:47.00
7 Akaram Mahmoud Egypt 14:53.66 14:49.15
8 Mykhailo Romanchuk Ukraine 14:50.33 14:51.00


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It would be great to see Wellbrock in the final, 14:55 might be enough.
Medals should be between Paltrinieri, Yang and Horton + maybe Detti. I pick Yang for gold, Paltrinieri for silver and Horton for bronze. The 2 americans should also be safe to make the final. The other 2 spots in the final should be between McLoughlin, Akram, Romanchuk, Christiansen, Gyurta, Cochrane. Shuttlesworth, Wellbrock and Joly. In the end Cochrane and one out of Romanchuk/Christiansen/Akram should make the final. I wouldnt be surprised to see Cochrane out of the final and i am pretty sure that Wilimovsky will make the final.


I would add Jeager on the contender..

But gold is almost a lock

If sun is subpar Paltriniery will take it easily, if Sun is on his game, we might have a race, I would still bet on the Italian and he might go for a WR with competition.


My picks
Sun Yang (if he makes it out on the deck)

Christopher Schroder

If Sun shows up, the gold is his. The way he closes the last 50, its hard to pick anyone else.


That finish hasn’t quite been the same since trimetazidine was off the menu. Funnily enough, Chinese athletes with those hard to fathom finishes (Zhang Lin, Ye Shiwen, Sun Yang) have dried up too.


It has not dried up. If anything it is better. Have you seen his improvement in the 200m?


I’m talking about those ridiculous final 50s. Chinese swimmers often had ridiculously fast final 50s over distance events 2009-2012.

Zhang Lin 800fr at 2009 Worlds
Zhao Jing 200bk at 2010 Asian Games
Ye Shiwen & Sun Yang in 2012

They are off the top of my head. Trimetazidine delays the onset of many side-effects of hard energy output, meaning the athletes still felt relatively ‘okay’ when they turn for home in endurance events.Trimetazidine is a big deal in China. It was banned in 2014. Have we seen any Chinese swimmers with such finishing speed since that time? Coincidence? Hmm.


You area funny guy.
Neither Ye nor Zhang have ever tested positive for substances.
I guess it is concidence, unless you want to convince yourself that it isn’t


Because it wasn’t a banned substance when they were swimming insane final 50s – Notice I said it wasnt banned until 2014. I’m not convincing myself of anything. I’m a drawing comparisons. Trimetazidine is a remarkably common drug in China, relatively uncontrolled and very cheap (much like meldonium in former USSR nations). 16 of the 22 biggest producers of Trimetazidine are, you guessed it, Chinese. I just find it strange that as soon as a drug that delays the onset of side-effects related to exercise is banned, China’s biggest super star is banned for using it and the frequency that we see startling finishes from Chinese athletes decreases. I’m not saying it is wholly and certainly related to trimetazidine, but… Read more »

Christopher Schroder

WADA has since downgraded Trimetazidine. It is no longer an in competition banned stimulant and has little performance enhancing effects. I doubt Trimetazidine fueled all that energy for Sun in the last 50 of the 1500 to break the WR. It is well known that Sun’s technique, posture in the water, and stroke count are what make his swimming so efficient compared to everyone else in the field, and therefore he is able to conserve a lot of energy for the last 50m. Besides, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not intentionally take Trimetazine to cheat. Everyone knows his story, whether they believe it or not is up to them. Regardless, he is amazing to… Read more »


He is indeed amazing to watch – And I wasn’t suggesting it was wholly down to trimetazidine, but that it has desirable effects on the body during exertion, to varying degrees, is undeniable

Attila the Hunt

Trimetazidine is actually not downgraded. In any case, it is now upgraded because you cannot apply TUE.
So the use of TMZ is banned in any situation, in or out of competition.

Attila the Hunt

Sun yang and his team claimed that the use of TMZ was critical to manage his heart condition.

So why is it he has not dropped dead since stopping using it?

It’s all BS.

They used TMZ to be able to train harder than they would have otherwise been able to do without dropping dead.


Why hasn’t he not dropped dead?
They probably found alternatives and his body adjusted.

Attila the Hunt

So his heart with chronic and congenital disease immediately adjusted no problem without TMZ, after years of critical TMZ assistance?


Christopher Schroder

There are alternative therapeutics out there. Afterall you said athletes can’t apply for TUE with TMZ. What is the guy supposed to do, keel over and die? (Im sure there are some who’d hope that).


I think the point Attila is making is yes, there are alternatives, but Sun and his team claimed Trimetazidine was specifically critical to managing his heart condition. Of course there are alternatives, but as Attila says, if this specific drug was so critical, why isn’t it now?

Just seems like a few too many coincidences, but I guess we’ll never truly know.

Christopher Schroder

I get that. And perhaps that explains why he hasnt swam in the 1500 in over a year and claimed heart issues. The point was rather if he is no longer on TMZ, why isnt he dead and how is he still able to swim? If you are a professional swimmer like Sun is, youre not going to throw your hands up and just give up. You are going to try your best to find an alternative therapy. Did he say TMZ is no longer critical? But what choice does he have? He cant apply for TUE. So he should just quit, right? There are other drugs that can treat his condition; they may not be as effective as TMZ,… Read more »

Attila the Hunt

Sun Yang has not applied for exemption for any other medication to treat congenital and chronic heart disease that he claimed he had as the reason he took trimetazidine for years.

Christopher Schroder

Youre assuming he is currently taking a banned substance in which case he would have to apply for an exemption. Niether you nor I am his doctor, so we dont really know the extent of his heart condition today. You do know there are heart medications out there that arent banned…

Attila the Hunt

Read what I wrote:

Sun Yang claimed that TMZ was CRITICAL in managing his congenital heart disease.

This means, without TMZ he would have died, or at least he wouldn’t have been able to train as an elite swimmer.

Attila the Hunt

If you believe that Sun Yang had congenital and chronic heart disease that required TMZ for years, so must also believe that the whole Russian team suffered similar heart disease that required intake of meldonium.

Christopher Schroder

You have to take each case/situation individually. Sun had evidence to support he has a heart condition. The Russian athletes are also given the opportunity to make their case, but it appears Russia’s problem is far bigger than just taking Meldonium and claiming heart problems because it involved a cover up and tampering with samples.

Attila the Hunt

And Sun Yang was never punished.

Now, try to argue against this fact.

Christopher Schroder

If he tested positive (and he did), I’m sure he had to serve his time – it may not have been sufficient in the eyes of many, but the anti-doping governing body decides the punishment, not Sun. He was also stripped of his medals in the Asian games after the positive test. Like I previously posted, I give him the benefit of the doubt. Time will tell if he is indeed a “cheater”, but as far as Im concerned, he did not intentionally take TMZ in 2012 to gain an advantage as he made his case with sufficient evidence and it was accepted by the appropriate authorities.

Attila the Hunt


You didn’t know if this FACT clearly show you ABSOLUTELY HAVE NO IDEA what you are talking about.

Attila the Hunt

You claimed he only took 2012?



How about this one? Does the decision made by WADA that it did not appeal against Chinese authorities’ three-month ban on Sun Yang look like evidence you don’t want to see?

Attila the Hunt

He made his case with sufficient evidence?

What sufficient evidence?
What authorities?

Please spell them out.

Christopher Schroder

First of all your logic is completely off to one side — biased against Sun regardless of what he has consistently said about the reason for taking TMZ and his heart problem, secondly you are reading more into what I wrote in response to your posts and making wild inferences. Sun said TMZ was “critical” for managing his heart condition, but he did not say TMZ was the ONLY medication he could take to manage his heart condition. Since it is now banned, he has no choice but to find an alternative therapy. There are people who are allergic to a certain medication that is critical for treating a life-threatening condition and therefore have no choice but to try something… Read more »

Attila the Hunt

Please just answer these two questions:

Who punished Sun Yang?
And when was this punishment?

Attila the Hunt

It is highly interesting to note that your view of the Chinese dopers are different than your views on the Russian dopers.

Christopher Schroder

Take that up with WADA, FINA, IOC et al. Apparently Im not the only one.

Attila the Hunt

So, which authorities you referred to when you mentioned “the appropriate authorities”? Did you not know that the Chinese federation did NOT report to either FINA or WADA that Sun Yang tested positive to TMZ? And FINA and WADA only knew after a chinese publication leaked the info more than 6 months after the positive test? I bet you did not know this. You said: “He was also stripped of his medals in the Asian games after the positive test” HAHAHA… CLEARLY YOU ARE PAID BY THE CHINESE OR YOU ARE COMPLETELY CLUELESS. His positive test was in May 2014, Asian Games was in September 2014. and Sun Yang are NOT STRIPPED OF ASIAN GAMES MEDALS, because there was NEVER… Read more »

Christopher Schroder

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the way China handled Sun’s positive TMZ test and subsequent punishment. It is unfortunate that China’s anti-doping agency and swimming federation did not report the positive test immediately. In hind sight they should have been more transpant from the start. Everyone has his/her idea about how much someone else should be punished. And the majority of the time, human nature wants to see that person punished to the highest extent the law would allow. Sun made his case, and the courts in China handed him the punishment they thought was appropriate. Again, WADA, FINA, IOC had every opportunity to impose further punishments, but they did not. I would imagine, they could not find… Read more »

Attila the Hunt

What punishment?

Please give us evidence that there was some punishment.

And by covering up Sun Yang’s positive test, the Chinese has broken WADA and FINA rules.

What would you have said if USA had done the same thing?

ANd China has broken further rule by bringing Dr. Ba Zhen to Asian Games.

How much are you getting money from the chinese government to keep lying about the chinese dopers?

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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